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Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Even though you may have good intentions when you offer a depressed person advice, you may do more harm than good if you do not truly understand the nature of the illness. Depression is a medical condition that requires proper treatment with medication and therapy. And what the depressed person needs is not sage advice, but your love and emotional support as they recover. Repeating platitudes like the following can leave him feeling like you are minimizing his suffering and really don't understand that he is already doing the best that he can.

1. Snap Out of It

Depression is a medical illness similar to diabetes or hypothyroidism, where the body does not produce enough of a needed substance to function properly. And just like these conditions, we can not simply will our bodies to make more. It takes the correct medical intervention, such as medication, to correct the underlying chemical imbalances of depression.

2. Cheer Up

In a similar vein are well-meaning exhortations to "cheer up" or "smile," as if all a depressed person needs to do to cure their depression is to decide to be happy. Just like he can't choose to "snap out it," he can't choose to "cheer up."

3. It Can't Be That Bad

How bad things are in your life really has nothing to do with depression. Events that might not really bother one person may seem like insurmountable obstacles to someone with depression because they do not have the internal resources needed to cope with stressful experiences.

4. It's All in Your Head

Depression is caused by a deficiency in the brain of mood-regulating substances called neurotransmitters. While technically this deficiency is occurring "in your head," depression is a very real illness.

5. Who Cares?

Depression can make a person feel as if they have no worth as a human being. The worst thing you can do is to confirm these feelings for him by saying that nobody cares.

6. Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself

A person with depression is not choosing to feel sorry for himself. How he feels is not a choice at all. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

7. It's Your Own Fault

While we do not entirely understand the causes of depression, we do know for certain that no one chooses to have this painful condition. Instead, it is believed by scientists to be at least in part an inherited condition passed along to us by our ancestors. Certain environmental factors may also play a role, perhaps by triggering any underlying inherited vulnerability to depression.

8. I Understand (When You Really Don't)

It's very easy to say that you understand what another person is going through, but if you've never truly experienced clinical depression, then it may feel to him like you are minimizing what he is experiencing. There is simply no comparison between a mild case of the blues and clinical depression. While your mild depression quickly passed, he sees no end in sight for his suffering. Rather than saying that you understand, it would better to say that you don't understand, but you care about him and would like to try.

9. It Could Be Worse

It may well be true that a person's life could be worse, but depression isn't about how bad things are; it's about how bad they feel to the person at that moment.

10. You Never Think of Anybody But Yourself

While it may seem like a depressed person is very wrapped up in his own life, it doesn't mean he is selfish or unconcerned about others. When a person feels the intense pain and sadness associated with depression, it becomes very difficult to focus on anything but that pain.
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